Renowned and influential documentarian Ken Burns, whose documentaries span The Vietnam War and Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge, recently produced Hemingway – a three part, six hour series made for PBS (the most prominent provider of educational television in the United States). Since its inception in 1976, Florentine Films has produced all of Ken Burns’ documentaries and despite the pandemic, Hemingway was no exception.
In February 2020, Daniel White, Post Super at Florentine Films, and team, were working on a restoration of Ken Burns’ marathon 1994 documentary Baseball when Covid started to shut things down. They very quickly had to find a solution that would enable them to continue colouring remotely with Technicolor PostWorks, based out of New York.
Right away the team tested out Sohonet’s real-time review tool, ClearView Flex. It wasn’t quite ready for what they needed but within a month Sohonet had ramped it up to include 10 bit colour and 5.1 audio for Apple TV. White sent LG C9 55-inch monitors to PostWorks for it to calibrate to professional standard. The facility shipped them to the homes of Florentine’s post team who, in the meantime, had equipped themselves with the latest version of Apple TV and upgraded to the fastest local internet speeds.
Using ClearView Flex, everyone who works at Florentine Films was able to work remotely on the project. Suddenly, they were able to stream directly from the post house to do colour and titling sessions. While White was in his basement office in Keene, New Hampshire, colourist Jack Lewars was at home in Brooklyn. “We were streaming remotely and doing color grades,” says White. “It looked terrific and worked smoothly – essentially like a Netflix stream.”
A similar workflow was applied to the show’s sound mix. Re-recording mixer, Joshua Berger, had a ClearView box at his stage at Harbor Picture Company in Manhattan streamed to Hemingway’s sound editors who were remote at home. “We had one of our dialogue editors in Ithaca, New York listening to streams played out of Harbor in Manhattan. When we did our mix playbacks we had picture and sound coming through in sync and at cinematic quality via ClearView Flex. We pay a lot of attention to detail on both the picture and sound side and being able to accomplish all of this hundreds of miles away from our mixer and colourist was remarkable.”
The added flexibility ClearView Flex offers Florentine Films is key. As White put’s it, “now that we have these tools in the future we won’t need to travel as much. Many people will want to do their final review in the facility. But for two thirds of the process, including titles or graphics sessions, you can do it from the comfort of your couch.”
Now, the regular workflow for White and the production team is to have Zoom open on one screen to chat and while sound and picture is streamed from the sound house or finishing facility. They can then tell the online editor at PostWorks to ‘pause right there’ or ‘ back up 5 seconds’ or ask the colourist to darken this or that area.
Gone is the challenge of trying to schedule a certain date and time that all stakeholders had to be in Manhattan for a review session – and figuring out hotels/ travel/ food – all of which took a lot of time and expense. As White says, just being able to text each other to say “let’s do a Zoom at 11am tomorrow and set up a ClearView session very quickly has more than paid for itself in just one person’s travel costs alone.”